Raven Crime Reads

Criminally good reads…

Cilla and Rolf Borjlind- Third Voice

516Hfm+VA8L__SX324_BO1,204,203,200_Samira is dead. She died last night. But now she is looking down over the roofs of Marseille. She remembers how he strangled her, how he bashed in her skull with an ashtray. How he cut off her head and buried her body in six different places. She hopes someone will find her…some day.Olivia Ronning is still struggling to come to terms with her brutal entry into the world. Cut from the womb of her murdered mother, with only seconds to spare, she is left with haunting dreams, brutal feelings and guilt. When Olivia’s friend Sandra Sahlmann discovers her father’s body hanging in the hall of their house, the police initially assume suicide. But something doesn’t sit right. Having veered away from her budding career as a police office, Olivia knows she should leave this alone – but she is just too close to this case, it’s personal now. Bengt Sahlmann’s suicide/murder lands on Mette Olsater’s desk. Tom Stilton is dragged into Samira’s murder, following a personal request from Abbas. And Olivia for her part can’t let Sandra’s questions go unanswered. The three investigations seem bound to cross paths. Will they all be able to put their former disagreements and personal demons aside and work together to solve their cases – and prevent further people from dying?

Counting myself very lucky that as a bookseller and reviewer I have a never-ending source of books, sometimes the teetering to-be-read pile works against me. Consequently, this is a book that got lost in the mix, but saints be praised that I prised it out after a lengthy hiatus in the books to-be-read mountain! With their previous book Spring Tide having made such an impression on me, and being one of my Top 5 books of last year, Third Voice is the second in the series to feature the terrier-like Olivia Ronning, ex-detective and former street dweller, Tom Stilton and police detective Mette Olsater, With the events of the previous book having caused such rifts in their relationships, Third Voice rejoins them with their lives having taken different turns…

After the thrilling perfection of Spring Tide, the Borjlinds once again draw on their screenwriting credentials (Arne Dahl’s Intercrime, Beck, Wallender) to produce a flawless addition in the shape of Third Voice. Exhibiting their writing versatility with the dual locations of Stockholm and Marseilles, they weave a tale of murder, uprooted loyalties, and sadness that kept me in its thrall from the prologue onwards.

Drawing on pretty much every single one of the seven deadly sins, evinced through the actions of our heroic protagonists and those that would harm them, this book is redolent with the themes and emotions of human experience. Friendship and loyalties torn apart make for a difficult journey for our young protagonist, Olivia, who once again finds herself embroiled in murder, as an alleged suicide case proves to be anything but, putting her in considerable danger. Ex-detective Tom Stilton, a man whose still waters run very deep indeed, proves his constancy when called upon by his friend Abbas to investigate the brutal murder of his one true love. Feisty and experienced detective Mette Olaster, struggling with her health proves a pivotal force in linking the investigations, and mending some broken bridges. Every single one of these characters are mesmerising, being so fully-formed and displaying such different and mercurial aspects of their characters. They are all imbued with a strong sense of morality, and the initial rifts between them are a source of great emotional soul searching. In fact, I would go far as to say that the construction of their individual identities are more akin to the style of characterisation you see more in literary fiction, as the highs and lows of their unique emotional make up contains pathos, tragedy, resilience and where appropriate moments of dark humour. I love these characters, and more importantly as a reader, I care about them.

With reference again to the Borjlinds screenwriting career, their control of narrative pace and plot reveals is absolutely superb. This is a dark and twisted tale with some very unsavoury aspects indeed, but utterly compelling. Their balance between shining a spotlight on one character’s stream of consciousness (for example the stunning revelations of Abbas’ formative years) is balanced perfectly with sequences of jaw dropping tension, suffused with danger and urgency. The little vignettes of character interactions, are offset by not only the perilous investigations, but by the authors’ finely attuned commentary on the societies these individual function in, with the seedy underbelly of the sex industry suddenly counterbalanced with corruption in the business world. Naturally, with the previous lives of both Stilton and Abbas, and Olivia’s involvement in the shady goings-on in the care industry, another tableau of incisive social comment arises on homelessness, drugs and substandard care of the elderly. When the story moves from Stockholm to Marseilles, the continuity and pinpoint descriptions of the locations concerned never wavers, and both appear totally authentic, containing their own air of menace and deprivation.

Quite simply, this will be one of the most perfect Scandinavian thrillers you could wish to pick up this year. All the elements of the genre we admire, combined with the unique visual quality, seamless dialogue, and narrative edge that the Borjlinds can provide with their television scripting. The characters are believable, fallible, and multi-faceted, and will draw you in from the outset. If you’ve not read Spring Tide, don’t worry as you will learn everything you need to know quickly and simply with some flawless back story. However, I would urge you to seek both of them out. Brilliant.

(With thanks to Hesperus for the ARC)

Mari Hannah- The Silent Room

hannahA security van sets off for Durham prison, a disgraced Special Branch officer in the back. It never arrives. On route it is hijacked by armed men, the prisoner sprung. Suspended from duty on suspicion of aiding and abetting the audacious escape of his former boss, Detective Sergeant Matthew Ryan is locked out of the investigation. With a manhunt underway, Ryan is warned to stay away. Keen to preserve his career and prove his innocence, he backs off. But when the official investigation falls apart, under surveillance and with his life in danger, he goes dark, enlisting others in his quest to discover the truth. When the trail leads to the suspicious death of a Norwegian national, Ryan uncovers an international conspiracy that has claimed the lives of many…

There can be no greater source of trepidation for both author and reader alike, when they embark on a standalone novel, away from the comfort of an established and much loved series. Having built up a loyal following with her five book series featuring DCI Kate Daniels, Hannah has branched out and brings us The Silent Room, with a change of both cast and tempo. Rest assured, you will not be disappointed…

With its tense and action packed opening detailing the hold up of a prison van, and the liberation of its occupant, disgraced Special Branch officer, Jack Fenwick, Hannah quickly embroils us in a tale of deception and conspiracy that will make your teeth rattle. Eager to prove his erstwhile boss innocent, DS Matthew Ryan is tainted by his association with Fenwick, and sets about to find out the truth about Fenwick’s activities. Inevitably this puts Ryan in the spotlight of Internal Affairs, and the particular attention of Detective Superintendent Eloise O’Neil who is tasked not only to retrieve Fenwick, but to discover how deeply Ryan was involved in his ex-boss’ activities. With the help of retired Special Branch operative Grace Ellis and her shady right hand man Frank Newman, Ryan begins to uncover a far-reaching conspiracy that stretches beyond the UK, putting himself, and those closest to him, in danger.

Once again the strength and consistency of Hannah’s characterisation is clearly in evidence here, away from the security of her existing series. Each character is so perfectly defined and delineated that quite soon into the book you have the feeling that you have been familiar with them for some time, and each has an integral importance to the plot. Although the book contains at least two incredibly strong female characters, it was gratifying to see Hannah’s slight shift of focus onto having a more predominant male protagonist in the shape of Ryan, and the authenticity of his characterisation. Not only does his character consolidate the events that happen around him, but I particularly enjoyed the way that Hannah uses his interaction with other characters to reveal other aspects of his personality, for example the tenderness of his relationship with his sister, his sparring with O’Neil, and the distinctly maternal nature of his relationship with the formidable Grace Ellis. Likewise, we get the other side of the coin, with his fierce male loyalty to Fenwick, and his initial distrust of, and then grudging respect for, the mysterious Newman. Each character works exceptionally well in tandem with each other, and Hannah has also cleverly sowed the seeds for a potential reprisal of them in any future additions to this first outing.

Another stand out feature of the book is pace and control of the plotting, which quickly ensures that the reader is completely sucked in to the action, and the ramifications of the initial scene. The narrative is tight and the story segues between the North Est of England and further afield to Scandinavia there is no contrivance in evidence, and the arc of the plot feels entirely natural. There are some real moments of heart in mouth tension, and along with Hannah’s masking of some characters’ true intentions, the book throws up elements of surprise to unsettle the reader, that keep those pages a-turning. Her attention to location (so evident in the Kate Daniels series) is once again spot on, and as an ex-resident of the North East, it was particularly enjoyable to take a virtual tour back to some of my old haunts, with a real clarity of recognition, and the re-location of the action to Norway was equally enjoyable.

It’s more than gratifying to see another female author so assuredly stamp their mark on this particular area of the conspiracy thriller, so often the preserve of male writers, and The Silent Room will appeal to both genders equally. The control of characterisation and plotting ensures a more than satisfying read, and I for one, would be more than happy to meet these protagonists again. As much as I hate the liberal use of the word ‘unputdownable’, that is exactly what this is. Unputdownable.

(With thanks to Macmillan for the ARC)

A Quick Round-Up- Caroline Mitchell- Don’t Turn Around/ Denzil Meyrick- Whisky From Small Glasses/ Barbra Leslie- Cracked

Let’s get the feeble excuse over with first! Currently battling with a very nasty viral illness, which seems to be reluctant to just bugger off. Although amazingly ahead of my reading, am woefully behind on reviews so here’s a quick round-up of books that have emerged from the teetering to-read pile…

9781909490970As D.C. Jennifer Knight investigates a routine stabbing in the quiet town of Haven, she is shocked at what seems like a personal message from beyond the grave.  When more bodies are found, Jennifer is convinced the killings are somehow linked. What she discovers is more chilling than she could possibly imagine. The murders mirror those of the notorious Grim Reaper – from over twenty years ago. A killer her mother helped convict.  Jennifer can no longer ignore the personal connection. Is there a copycat killer at work? Was the wrong man convicted? Or is there something more sinister at play? With her mother’s terrifying legacy spiralling out of control, Jennifer must look into her own dark past in a fight not only to stop a killer – but to save herself and those she loves…

There seems to be a small tide of paranormal tinged crime thrillers appearing at the moment, and having recently read James Nally- Alone With The Dead, I decided to dip my toe into this spooky sub-genre again with Mitchell’s debut thriller, Don’t Turn Around. Drawing on her experiences with the police, and her own encounters with more unexplainable phenomena, Mitchell has produced a perfectly creditable police procedural, underscored by some very dark goings-on indeed. Like Nally’s debut, I was extremely impressed with the book in terms of its characterisation, and DC Jennifer Knight in particular. Not only did she come across as an authentic police officer, but I loved the way that as the timeline gravitated back and forth, we began to see more the her determination to walk in her late mother’s footsteps, and how it influenced her own growth as an accomplished police officer. I enjoyed her interactions with her less dynamic colleague, Will, who lightened the feel of the book overall, and felt their partnership worked well. Unlike many books with the past/present structure, both timelines held my interest equally, and Mitchell carefully dealt with the ramifications of past crimes impacting on the present, and Jennifer’s task of catching a particularly heinous killer. Perhaps due to my natural scepticism of ‘otherworldy’ phenomena I was less enamoured with the supernatural thrust of the story, but to be honest, this didn’t prove a major stumbling block in my enjoyment of the book, as the police investigation was well realised, and overall I felt the book provided a very strong foundation for a potential series.

(I bought this copy of Don’t Turn Around)

51Xpc8S2wRL__SX324_BO1,204,203,200_When the body of a young woman is washed up on an idyllic beach on the west coast of Scotland, D.C.I. Jim Daley is despatched from Glasgow to lead the investigation. Far from home, and his troubled marriage, it seems that Daley’s biggest obstacle will be managing the difficult local police chief, but when the prime suspect is gruesomely murdered, the investigation begins to stall. As the body count rises, Daley uncovers a network of secrets and corruption in the close-knit community of Kinloch, thrusting him and his loved ones into the centre of a case more deadly than he could ever have imagined…

The first of Denzil Meyrick’s series featuring DCI Jim Daley, a Glasgow cop despatched to a small community of the west coast of Scotland to take on a particularly testing murder case in a miasma of secrets and lies. This proved a frustrating read for me, as for at least two thirds of the book I was absolutely hooked. So we’ll start with the good. The characterisation of Daley was brilliant, a bear of a man with a determined and professional stance in relation to the investigation he undertakes, and how he treats his friends and colleagues, but whose weak spot was his feckless and really quite dislikeable wife, Liz who manipulates him at every turn. I particularly loved his right hand man DS Brian Scott, whose gruff Glaswegian persona, worked beautifully in tandem with his boss Daley throughout, and played off (and wound up)  the ‘small town’ cops and residents to great effect. The evocation of location in the fictional community of Kinloch, was equally assured, and there was a vividness and sense of realism throughout in Meyrick’s descriptions of this small coastal community, and the beauty of its surroundings. However, despite the meticulous and engaging plotting of the book up to the last few chapters, I was suddenly struck by those black thoughts of ‘oh no, he’s not going to do that with the plot is he;  that would be really obvious. And annoying’. He did. So I’m afraid that the ending of what had been a really rather impressive tale of murder, drugs, and skulduggery fell a bit flat at the end, and all felt a bit too ITV crime drama for my particular taste. (Which is fine if you want your book to be filmed as an ITV crime drama- ha!)  But nil desperandum and all that, because the combined force of Daley and Scott and their natural bonhomie would definitely entice me to read another in the series. I raise a small glass to this duo…

(I bought this copy of Whisky From Small Glasses)

Cracked_cvrAfter her stormy marriage ends, Danny Cleary jumps down the rabbit hole into a world of crack cocaine delivered to her door by a polite but slightly deranged dealer. But when Danny’s twin sister Ginger is murdered, Danny and her rock musician brother fly to California to find their nephews and the people who killed their sister. Fighting her addiction, nosy cops and crazy drug dealers, she kicks ass and takes names, embracing her inner vigilante in a quest to avenge her sister and save her family…

Right, let’s finish with a bang, and let me introduce you to one of the most mental, high-octane, and fast-paced thrillers I have read for some time. With its mash up of Janet Evanovich and Breaking Bad, Leslie brings us an absolutely brilliant protagonist in the shape of crack addict, Danny Cleary, who doesn’t seek to find trouble, it just naturally gravitates towards her! I loved the emotional opposites that Leslie weaves into her character, with her ballsy, high energy, kick ass attitude so wonderfully melded with a real emotional vulnerability, that she constantly seeks to overcome to avenge her sister’s death. She takes no prisoners, and basically you mess with her at your peril. I fair raced through this book with its punchy, pithy dialogue, and fast moving plot that sees Danny uprooted from the relative safety of Toronto to California, where events escalate at an alarming and dangerous pace. There’s drugs, violence, sadness, more violence, and for much of the book you are blindsided by who’s bad, who’s good with some great reveals at key moments of people’s evil motivations and depravity. I though this was an absolutely cracking read, which left me emotionally spent, but ultimately very fulfilled. A sassy, dark, thoroughly entertaining thriller and highly recommended.

(With thanks to Titan Books for the ARC)






A Quick Sunday Five-A-Side…Alice Thompson/Luca Veste/Andrew Mayne/Hugo Wilcken/Jo Nesbo/

As promised here is a quick round-up of some of the October reads that I have been unable to post- some good, some indifferent and some disappointing. Have a look and make up your own minds…

bookcIn Edwardian England, Violet has a fairy tale existence: loving husband, beautiful baby son and luxurious home. She wants for nothing. But soon after the birth of her baby the idyll begins to disintegrate. Violet becomes obsessed by a book of fairy tales that her husband has locked away in a safe, and as paranoia sets in, she begins to question her own sanity, resulting in her internment in an asylum. Meanwhile, vulnerable young women are starting to disappear from the same asylum, and then found brutally murdered…

I must admit that the cover alone made me instantly put down the book I was reading and avidly leap on this one. Shallow I know. However, this was a little Gothic inspired piece of perfection, charting the mental degradation experienced by a naïve young woman in Edwardian England. Thompson balances the demands of depicting her chosen era with the tropes of the time, thus producing an incredibly authentic piece of writing that taps in perfectly to the psychological condition ‘the mad woman in the attic’ produced by a canon of writers. What was interesting, apart from the general darkness and murderous feel of the plot, was the way Thompson circumvented the genre towards the end of the book, through the use of language that her heroine Violet begins to display. The precise Edwardian vocabulary began to assume a more contemporary feel in the wake of Violet’s treatment at the asylum, and this proved an interesting divergence from the general feel of the book. With flayed corpses, books covered with human skin, and raging madness, this is definitely worth checking out…

(With thanks to Salt Publishing for the ARC)

lucaSocial media stars Chloe Morrison and Joe Hooper seem to have it all – until their bodies are found following an anonymous phone call to their high-profile agent. Tied and bound to chairs facing each other, their violent deaths cause a media scrum to descend on Liverpool, with DI David Murphy and DS Laura Rossi assigned to the case. Murphy is dismissive, but the media pressure intensifies when another couple is found in the same manner as the first. Only this time the killer has left a message. A link to a private video on the internet, and the words ‘Nothing stays secret’. It quickly becomes clear that more people will die; that the killer believes secrets and lies within relationships should have deadly consequences…

Bloodstream is the third Liverpool set police procedural by Luca Veste featuring detectives David Murphy and Laura Rossi. Tapping in perfectly to the insidious greed to base our lives on social media, and be obsessed with reality television, Veste has constructed an intriguing thriller using both of these trends as a backdrop. With a killer driven by an insidious desire to wreak his personal judgement on the secrets and lies that exist in personal relationships, Veste makes a good job of concealing his killer’s identity to near to the close of the book. It’s all pointing one way but no, you’d be wrong! With the established partnership of Murphy and firebrand Rossi gathering maturity, the reader is quickly enmeshed and comfortable with the dynamics of their working relationship. Murphy is still stoical and methodical, Rossi still a bit of a loose cannon, but rather sweetly now entering the realm of the grown-ups with a fledgling love affair. Although I didn’t enjoy this one quite as much as the previous two, due to the more understated characterisation of Murphy and Rossi , it is in no way a bad read. A solid police procedural with some nice little knowing nods to the world of Twitter and Facebook, makes for an enjoyable catch-up with the series.

(With thanks to Simon & Schuster for the ARC)


Meet Jessica Blackwood, FBI Agent and ex-illusionist. Called in because of her past to offer expertise on the mysterious ‘Warlock’ case, Jessica must put all her unique knowledge to the test as the FBI try to catch a ruthless killer. Needing to solve the unsolvable, and with the clock ticking, they’re banking on her being the only one able to see beyond the Warlock’s illusions…

Up until this very moment, I am still a little undecided as to whether I enjoyed Angel Killer or not. I think the safest thing to say is that I liked bits of it, but not convinced it totally worked as a whole. Written by a man with one foot in the world of magic and illusion, the actual baffling nature of the crimes were undoubtedly clever, and if ever a book was written to transfer to a big screen production, this would be it. The scope and scale of the criminal illusions perpetrated by The Warlock were unique, intriguing and a real highlight of the book. The characterisation of FBI agent, Jessica Blackwood with her mix of wide-eyed naivety, but quick witted intelligence was also well realised, and the background to her aptitude for magic influenced by her family’s involvement in this world of trickery was filled with Mayne’s undoubted knowledge of the craft. However, I wasn’t entirely convinced by the killer’s motivation, and I thought the ending was extremely damp squibbish. A mixed affair overall, but worth a look if you enjoy a pacey thriller and have an interest in magic and illusions on a grand scale.

(With thanks to Faber for the ARC)

41ncvXMjr-L__SX333_BO1,204,203,200_1950s New York: Disturbed by a troubling phone call, Dr Manne isn’t himself when he’s called out by the police to evaluate a man suspected of psychosis. But the man is perfectly calm, and insists he’s not who the police says he is. Manne isn’t sure what to believe, but something definitely isn’t right. Before he knows it, he’s helping his patient escape from an unfamiliar psychiatric hospital that reminds him of a story he heard during the war, about a secret government medical testing programme. With the stranger asleep in his bed, and the distinct feeling that he’s being followed, Manne is determined to make sense of the events unfolding around him; that is until a careless slip on the subway leads to a horrific accident. Waking up in a hospital bed, Manne realises his own identity is not as certain as he’d always believed. What kind of a hospital is he in, why can’t he leave, and who is the pretty young woman on the balcony, who he watches from his window? As Manne pieces together the story, he realises that pretending to be someone else might be his only chance for escape.

Billed as a cross between Camus and Hitchcock, with shades of Patricia Highsmith’s The Talented Mr Ripley, I must confess that for large parts of this book, I had not the faintest clue what was going on, but it mattered not a jot. This is not an easy read, and attention must be paid, as Wilcken unmercifully manipulates the character of Manne, and the reader’s sensibilities, in this twisted and cerebral tale of fluid identity and government conspiracy. It is without a doubt one of the most clever, perplexing and challenging books I’ve encountered this year, with its trail of red herrings, and it’s ability to make you flick back and forth thinking you have discovered a vital clue, only to be undone again by another shift of plot or characterisation. The backdrop of 50’s New York is perfectly realised throughout, and it’s a cracking slice of hardboiled noir to boot. Fancy a challenge? This one’s for you…

(With thanks to Melville House for the ARC)

51FIjE4xtVL__SX335_BO1,204,203,200_Jon is on the run. He has betrayed Oslo’s biggest crime lord: The Fisherman. Fleeing to an isolated corner of Norway, to a mountain town so far north that the sun never sets, Jon hopes to find sanctuary amongst a local religious sect. Hiding out in a shepherd’s cabin in the wilderness, all that stands between him and his fate are Lea, a bereaved mother and her young son, Knut. But while Lea provides him with a rifle and Knut brings essential supplies, the midnight sun is slowly driving Jon to insanity. And then he discovers that The Fisherman’s men are getting closer…

Following last year’s standalone novel Blood On Snow, Nesbo follows up with Midnight Sun another slightly compressed offering whilst we all eagerly await the next Harry Hole outing. This was okay, and I say that with reservations, as it did feel less well-formed, and slightly lackadaisical to his normal writing style. It was all a little ho-hum, let’s insert some info on the Sami lifestyle, bit of violence, touching moment of less than effective father raising money for sick child through nefarious means, interaction with cute kid he could then possibly adopt,  bit of violence (with a reindeer), love interest, bit more violence. And then a totally unsatisfactory ending – which was a real cop-out, and made me huff in despair. Overall quite disappointed, but liked the Sami bit. A bit.

(With thanks to Harvill Secker for the ARC)




Matthew Frank- If I Should Die


When a homeless man walks into Greenwich police station and confesses a killing, it should be the admission that cracks open a murder enquiry. Instead, he stumbles out on to the street and collapses, bleeding from a stab wound he’s attempted to repair himself. The newest member of the Met’s murder investigation team, twenty-five year-old Afghan veteran Joseph Stark, doesn’t believe the man’s story. Yet it becomes clear that Stark and the down-and-out share a connection. And that this could provide the key to unlocking the case. Soon, the young detective and his colleagues are drawn deeper into a dark, disturbing world as dangerous as anything Stark has known on the frontline. And where there’s enough at stake for a man to risk everything . . .

Somewhat belatedly I finally managed to squeeze this debut from Matthew Frank into my reading schedule. As the old adage runs, all good things come to those who wait, as this was truly one of the most well-plotted and compelling crime thrillers I have encountered this year…

What struck me most was how this book could so easily be all things to all men (and women) due to the complexity of the book as a whole. First, it is a socially aware thriller with the story focusing on the random attacks on the homeless community in a corner of London by a group of disaffected and vicious youths from a local sink estate. Frank taps in perfectly to the moral degradation of said youths, drawing a contrasting depiction of those on whom they vent their misguided and sadistic violence. This is particularly emotionally affecting after their attack on an aged homeless war veteran, a man of integrity and honour fallen on hard times, and the casual sadism that their ringleaders exhibit. Set against the isolation of their homeless victim, Frank also really gets to the crux of the manipulation and fearful isolation that certain members of the young gang feel, as their sense of morality begins to kick in, putting them at odds with their manipulative gang leader. There is a huge sense of emotional damage running as a motif through the book generally, and in the experiences and dialogue of the youths, Frank captures this perfectly.

Secondly, it’s a well plotted, linear, police procedural with an assured and likeable cast of characters, which could easily establish this as a series. Frank sets up a team of detectives, that you immediately feel comfortable and emotionally engaged with, and the petty rivalries and jealousies that affect any workplace. With the team being mostly overseen by headstrong and outspoken DS Fran Millhaven, Frank immediately gets a gold star for constructing a female character who is both believable and normal, without the usual emotional baggage that tends to follow these characters around. Her interactions with TDC Joseph Stark in particular are a mixture of spikiness, an almost sisterly affection and then pure exasperation, which gives shades of light and dark to their relationship, providing a strong central base for the plot to pivot around. There is also an extremely strong group of bit players, from those linked to the central investigation, through to the characters we see outside of Stark’s police role, reflecting his former career, and the therapy he is undergoing, giving ballast to this being the first of a series. Frank uses some of these exceptionally well, as a mirror to his main character Stark, and how they and we should perceive him and his emotional and physical vulnerability. It’s very well accomplished.

But more than a socially aware thriller, and police procedural, and this is what impressed me the most, was the depth and characterisation of ex-soldier and TDC Joseph Stark ,which gives Frank an enormous amount of opportunity to give us an insight into the mental and physical turmoil experienced by returning soldiers in the wake of conflict. As the representation of war in fiction is a particular interest of mine (and the subject of my MA) I have read widely in the genre, detailing the experiences that Frank explores here. The depth and clarity with which Frank narrates Stark’s experiences in combat, the journey to recovery and the particular difficulties he experiences in adjusting to civilian life and his return to the police force, is truly compelling. Every nuance of his emotional state, and the frustrations caused by his psychological and physical therapy is captured perfectly, along with the intermittent flashbacks to the harrowing events that he experienced as a soldier in Iraq and Afghanistan. This gives a real emotional third wheel to the overall solidity of the book, and the structure of this within the realm of what could be labelled ostensibly as a police procedural, is powerfully done, and perfectly realised.

As you can no doubt tell, I was incredibly impressed with If I Should Die for many reasons, not least because it avoid well-worn cliches within the genre, was powerfully characterised, and addressed some weighty issues in a believable and engaging way. Highly recommended.

(With thanks to Penguin for the ARC)

October 2015 Round-Up and Raven’s Book of the Month

_DSC0185 (Common Raven)Well wasn’t that just an incredibly frustrating month? Thwarted by an exceptionally busy work month, a heavy reading schedule of fiction,  and my continuing battles with technology- now hopefully fixed by an investment in a new laptop- I only managed to bring you a fairly paltry five reviews. Slapped wrists for me I think. Just glad I managed to squeeze in my blog tours with Luca Veste, David Young, and James Nally on various borrowed devices!

It’s also been a disappointing month with the much-lauded arrival of some new crime dramas on our screens, heralding a sense of extreme dissatisfaction in this feathered one. With a viewing time of one episode for From Darkness (twenty minutes of plot and dialogue punctuated by winsome staring out of a car window, kitchen window, out to sea) , one episode of Unforgotten (predictable fodder), and the heady heights of an episode and a half for River (which was the one I was really looking forward to- Stellan Skarsgard [over]acting weird + ghost) it was all very vexing. Roll on the new series of Luther and the return of The Bridge…

Anyway, on a brighter note, I have a slew of unposted reviews which I will start posting today to try and catch-up, and there’s a few little treats in there for you so keep ’em peeled. Here’s to a more productive November…

Books reviewed this month:

Brian Freeman- Goodbye To The Dead

James Nally- Alone With The Dead

Shawn Kobb- Collection: A Rocket Malone Mystery

David Young- Stasi Child

Antti Tuomainen- Dark As My Heart

Raven’s Book(s) of the Month

StasiChild_firstlook_540Absolutely no contest this month, and a genuinely impossible anttidecision between these two stellar reads! Step forward David Young- Stasi Child, and Antti Tuomainen Dark As My Heart, for two exceptionally compelling reads set in East Berlin and Finland respectively. I can’t choose between you, nor would I want to, so everyone read both! You won’t be disappointed. Promise…

Blog Tour- Luca Veste- #Bloodstream- Guest Post- Secrets and Lies

luca540Welcome to the last stop on the Blog Tour to mark the release of Luca Veste’s third thriller, Bloodstream, featuring DI David Murphy and DS Laura Rossi, which sets our intrepid detectives on a search for a serial killer who feeds off the lies that can exist in relationships. Here’s Luca’s own take on the world of secret and lies….

“Have you ever lied? Odds are, you have. According to many studies, we lie on average anything from twice a day, to fourteen times a day (dependent on which study has the most people telling the truth!). It has even been suggested by evolutionists that the ability to lie and be deceitful is a part of why we have evolved to the point of domination. Our capacity to deceive is only matched by our capacity to build things none of us really need.

So, we all lie in one way or another. Maybe some of you only tell those little, tiny, miniscule lies which hurt no one and instead make feel better. You know, the standard ones…

Of course you don’t look fat in those jeans.

You were very funny during the party. They all loved you.

I would have punched that giraffe as well… he was definitely about to headbutt one of us.

Then, there’s the bigger lies. The ones we tell as self-preservation. To our boss, to our family. Those lies we tell so as not to get into trouble, or in a bad situation. With those lies, it wasn’t the ones told to those who aren’t really central to our adult lives. For those in relationships, your partner is supposedly central to your life. Yet, it is to them that we will tell similar lies to. This person (or persons) we choose to spend our time with, our lives becoming interconnected with each other. We all have this capacity to lie to these people. A partner we have chosen specifically for the reason that to not do so would somehow make our lives lesser. We’re not forced together by circumstance like our families or bosses. We made a decision to share the most intimate part of ourselves with these people … and then we lie to them. Keep something hidden from them.

lucaThis is an aspect of life which I wanted to explore in the new Murphy & Rossi novel ‘Bloodstream‘. If we are judged on the lies we tell, would any of us survive that examination? If any of our relationships was scrutinised by an outsider, would any of us pass a test of absolute truthfulness and faithfulness?

You may think the small lies don’t really matter. That telling our partners something we know not to be true is only to protect them. Instead, isn’t it more likely that your partner is only looking for reassurance, whilst secretly knowing the truth? Aren’t we taking full part in a lie being perpetuated, allowing it to fester into your relationship, becoming somehow a factor in whether that relationship survives or not?

Is it possible to be in a relationship without lying in some way, or are we predisposed to lie our way through life?

I wanted to explore these ideas and more in the book, seeing how relationships stood up to the test. From those in the public eye, to the more mundane and normal relationships we all know and are a part of. The antagonist in the story has a glamourised version of love and relationships in his head, which he has never fully realised in reality. Anger has festered within him, to the point he now wants to destroy those he deems to fall short of his expectations. If someone in a relationship is holding a secret or lying to their partner, he believes they should suffer.

Thus, would anyone in a relationship survive this examination?

Most of us believe we’re truthful people, but is that really true?

It’s ideas and themes such as these which drive me to write the novels I do. Taking a simple thought and working it over in my mind to create a story. Place characters in situations and seeing what happens next. Using societal issues to drive a crime novel, which I really enjoy doing.

I lie less now. After reading Bloodstream, maybe you will too…”


Missed any posts?  Check out the blog tour at these excellent sites

Luca Veste Blog Tour

Antti Tuomainen- Dark As My Heart

anttiAleksi lost his mother on a rainy October day when he was thirteen years old. Twenty years later, he is certain that he knows who’s responsible. Everything points to millionaire Henrik Saarinen. The police don’t agree. Aleksi has only one option: to get close to Henrik Saarinen and find out the truth about his mother’s fate on his own. But as Aleksi soon discovers, delving into Saarinen and his beautiful daughter’s family secrets is a confusing and dangerous enterprise…

I must confess that aside from Matti Joensuu and Kati Hiekkapelto my knowledge of Finnish crime fiction is a little underdeveloped, so was intrigued to discover a new-to me-writer in this sub-genre of the Scandinavian stable. So how did Dark As My Heart fare? Will I be seeking out Tuomainen’s The Healer as well?

If the fact that I read this book in one night can be testament to how much I enjoyed this one is any gauge, I think we can all safely say that this book was a real hit with me. Dark As My Heart, drew me in from the start with the mournful clarity and simplicity of its prose, and the underlying power of the emotion that Tuomainen expresses in deceptively understated prose. Discovering afterwards that Tuomainen is an established poet reinforced my initial impressions of the lyrical and sensual quality of both the dialogue and imagery that Tuomainen employs throughout. From the inherent appreciation of the natural world, to the intensity of expression that the author affords the gradual unveiling of Aleksi’s turbulent and emotional upbringing in the wake of the loss of his mother, the prose style that Tuomainen adopts is mesmerising. I rarely revisit passages of a crime book after reading, but did on this occasion mainly to marvel at the fluid and lyrical style of Tuomainen’s writing style, from the brevity (though no less affecting) use of dialogue, to particular descriptions of the setting of Saarinen’s rural estate. It was just so satisfying to see such a seamless blend of beautiful language, and well-structured plot working in harmony, which is something that European crime writers seem to excel at. What was also clever was how at times the book also assumed the feel of a stage play with many double-handed scenes that again added to the claustrophobic and emotionally intense feel of the book. Hence, what the reader encounters is a well-balanced blend of poetry, prose and drama which was exceptionally engaging from start to finish.

Aleksi is viewed throughout the book with an overriding compunction to uncover the truth behind his mother’s disappearance, fuelled by a long period of gestation formulating a plan to confront the man he believes responsible. In the case of his character, still waters run deep, with the face he displays to the world masking a deep inner life driven by revenge, and it’s fascinating how Tuomainen so beautifully reveals the dark details of Aleksi’s formative years. Equally accomplished is how Tuomainen sustains such a pitch of intigue and secrecy using a comparatively small cast of characters, and Aleksi’s interaction with them. He is a completely empathetic character, and I’m sure like many readers to come I was completely rooting for him throughout the book, in the face of the deception and manipulation at the hands of the Saarinens. In much the same way as Stieg Larsson’s The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo or Steffen Jacobsen’s Trophy, Tuomainen uses the character of millionaire businessman Henrik Saarinen, as a foil for his detached authorial view of the impunity with which the rich and powerful ride roughshod over the normal laws of decent behaviour, and Saarinen is the epitomy of this, eemingly untouchable by established means. His daughter assumes the role of the femme fatale of the piece, using her feminine wiles and sensuality to influence and blindside Aleksi, with a particularly unsavoury reveal about her character along the way. The world that Aleksi has infiltrated is morally bankrupt and Tuomainen provides an intriguing study of the base motivations and jealousies that drive human behaviour.

I found Dark As My Heart one of the most compelling, emotionally satisfying and beautifully realised crime thrillers that I have encountered this year. The clarity and deceptively simple style of Tuomainen’s prose is utterly compelling, underlined by his assured use of more than one literary form, and yet with this clever manipulation and lyricism of the language and form of the book, Tuomainen never loses sight of keeping the reader engaged by the central mystery that drives the plot. Wonderful.

(With thanks to Vintage/Harvill Secker for the ARC)

Blog Tour: David Young- Stasi Child/ Guest Post: Top 5 East Berlin Sites + Review

Stasi Blog Tourdavid

Well, today it’s the final stop on the Stasi Child Blog Tour, and author David Young has dropped by Raven Crime Reads to share some info and photos of some must- visit sites in East Berlin, so integral to his debut crime thriller. Then with your interest piqued, read on for Raven’s review of Stasi Child- think you’re going to like this one…

Top Five: East German sights in Berlin

Twenty five years ago this month, the two Germanies – East and West – became one. It seems hard to believe that a quarter of a century has passed. Some fifteen years before that, in 1975, my novel Stasi Child begins – a time when few believed Germany would be reunited in their lifetime. A time defined by the Berlin Wall – known in the east as the Anti-Fascist Protection Barrier or Rampart. It’s already a lost world, yet the ghost of the ironically titled German Democratic Republic (GDR) can still be seen in the eastern part of Germany, and in particular its captivating capital, which – especially in the last century – has been such a crucible of history. These are my top five tips for reliving the GDR on a visit to Berlin …

1. The Berlin Wall Memorial

Reconstructed watchtower at the Berlin Wall MemorialThe Wall is the symbol of all that was bad about East Germany – even though its construction in 1961 had a horrible logic: the GDR’s leaders needed somehow to stem the brain drain from their tiny eastern bloc country into the west. This memorial is sited in Bernauer Strasse – split between east and west in August 1961 – where people jumped out of apartment block windows to try to escape. You can read the harrowing stories of those shot dead in their attempts to flee in a portion of no man’s land that’s been retained, along with an original section of wall and reconstructed watchtower. The opening scene of Stasi Child takes place in St Elisabeth’s Cemetery, adjacent to the memorial.

2. Berlin-Hohenschönhausen Memorial

Internal security in the GDR was the preserve of the Ministry for State Security, more commonly known as the Stasi, and this memorial is site of the main Stasi prison. It’s largely unchanged, surrounded by a barbed wire-topped wall and watchtowers. A visit here is an incredibly moving experience: the guides are usually either former inmates, or relatives of former inmates, with their own personal horror stories of what falling foul of the GDR regime meant. The prison features in the Oscar-winning film The Lives of Others (and also in Stasi Child). If you’re short on time in Berlin, then Hohenschönhausen is a better bet than the former Stasi HQ at Normannenstrasse, though the latter has its highlights (such as a chance to spy on Stasi head Erich Mielke’s private bathroom).

3. ‘Alltag in der DDR’, Kulturbrauerei Museum

Trabi tent at Kulturbrauerei museumThis  is a relatively new museum housed in a former brewery off Schönhauser Allee in the Prenzlauer Berg district – is for me the pick of several in eastern Berlin that seek to depict everyday life in the former GDR (although those in the Palace of Tears – the former border crossing at Friedrichstrasse station – and the privately-run DDR Museum, where you can take a virtual drive in a Trabi, are also well worth visiting). You get a real flavour of day-to-day existence, and it wasn’t all bad. In fact, those who didn’t fall foul of the Stasi had one of the highest standards of living in the eastern bloc. Childcare facilities, welfare, job security, food prices – all put the west to shame, especially in the 1970s when Stasi Child is set, when Britain was riddled with three-day weeks, strikes and an oil crisis. Don’t miss the wonderful letters from schoolchildren imagining what a future GDR might be like.

 4. Museumswohnung, Berlin-Hellersdorf

Kitchen cupboard in the MuseumswohnungSome who brave the seventeen-kilometre drive or U-bahn ride out to this Berlin suburb might be disappointed by the Museumswohnung, but for me it was an unforgettable experience. Only open on Sundays, or by appointment, it’s a former East Berlin flat preserved as a time capsule: nothing more, nothing less. You’ve got all the original furniture, kitchen equipment, books and electrical gadgets. There are smaller displays in the DDR museum or Kulturbrauerei – but this is the real thing, housed in a typical – albeit modernised – GDR concrete slab apartment estate.

5. Waldsiedlung, near Wandlitz

Honecker's HouseNot strictly speaking Berlin, but some thirty kilometres to the north, this ‘forest settlement’ is well worth a trip in a hire car. This was where East Germany’s leaders lived, in comparative – but not ostentatious – luxury. In Stasi Child, it’s the setting where my People’s Police detective, Karin Müller, finally learns from her Stasi ‘handler’ what her case has all been about. It’s now a sanatorium, but in GDR-times was a well-guarded, gated estate. You can either take a guided tour on a road train, or wander round yourself, discovering the former houses of the two Erichs – Honecker and Mielke. Ironically, Mielke’s former home is considerably bigger – but both would be considered fairly modest by western standards.


StasiChild_firstlook_540If you still need an incentive to read this book after some brilliant guest posts, reviews and Q&As, I will do my best to further convince you! I’m more than happy to report that the Raven was rather taken with this one…

Constructed around three contrasting narrative viewpoints, the book takes place in 1970’s East Berlin, with the famed wall firmly in place, and the contrast between life either side of it strongly in evidence throughout. A young girl’s body is discovered close to the wall, with the general consensus being that she has taken the unusual step of fleeing from the West to the East, unlike most of her contemporaries. However, as Oberleutnant Karin Müller ( the only female head of a murder squad in the Deutsche Demokratische Republic) and her infuriatingly charming sidekick, Unterleutnant Werner Tilsner investigate further, they come to realise that much darker dealings are afoot. With their every move being monitored by a representative of the Stasi, fundamentally manipulating their remit in the investigation, and Müller’s husband Gottfried also attracting the unwanted attention of the secret police, there is much subterfuge to be undertaken, and angst to be had, by Müller along the way. Additionally, Young incorporates a seemingly unrelated plot involving the restrictive and harsh conditions experienced by a group of youngsters in a notorious ‘Jugendwerkhof‘, ostensibly a home for less well disciplined, or rootless, youngsters to be indoctrinated in the ways of the State. As all three narratives wend their way towards each other, the depth of corruption, control, and conspiracy within this closed society become all too clear.

If, like me, you have enjoyed the Soviet-based crime fiction of authors such as Martin Cruz Smith, William Ryan, Tom Rob Smith or Sam Eastland, this will prove itself an absolute must read. Like the aforementioned authors, Young perfectly captures the socio-political atmosphere of a society in the grasp of a suffocating control of the state apparatus. The fear, suspicion and deprivation encountered by not only Müller and her team and the youngsters at the Jugendwerkhof, but also that of ordinary citizens, is incredibly well depicted, and Young provides an unflinching gaze on the workings of this closed society. He carefully balances the seeming utopia of life beyond the wall in the West, with the harsh and stringent regime of the East, which makes the plight of these citizens all the more affecting as the story progresses. Having only accrued knowledge of this location and period in German history from non-fiction and celluloid representations, it was entirely satisfying to see how well Young crafted the pertinent details into his fictional representation. Ably supported by an engrossing plot, with its varying strands and well-structured premise, this wasn’t just a linear crime thriller, which again added to the satisfaction of this reader.

Likewise, Young’s grasp of effective characterisation was a real bonus. Müller herself was an entirely empathetic and believable protagonist, balancing the problems of her gender, with the importance of her position in the police, and the nefarious individuals seeking to derail and influence her investigation. The interplay between her and Tilsner, both on a personal and professional level, always overshadowed by the demands of her loyalty to her husband, was a real hook throughout, and added a nice frisson to the general gloom and sadness that infuses the story. The character of Oberstleutnant Karl Jager, as a representative of the Stasi was also nicely weighted within the plot, with his shadowy influence and mercurial nature, providing an intriguing and slightly sinister air to the whole affair, in his dealings with Müller and Tilsner.

Similarly to Tom Callaghan’s debut earlier this year, The Killing Winter, set in Kyrgyzstan, it was extremely satisfying to read a book located in a largely unexplored society, within the crime fiction genre. Young has more than proved that his name will be one to watch in the future with this powerful, well-researched and intriguing thriller. A highly recommended debut.

Stasi Child by David Young is out now in ebook. The Paperback will follow in February 2016.

(With thanks to twenty7 for the ARC)


A Quick Message From Raven

_DSC0185 (Common Raven)Hello one and all!

As some people have noticed there has been a significant hiatus in my blogging and social media participation over the last couple of weeks. Rest assured, I have been reading all your posts via other means, and sharing sporadically, as I have finally had to call time on my antiquated technology (it died), and have just ordered myself a sparkly new laptop.

I’ve tried to work on my tiny tablet, but I am not a small elf with better than average eyesight, so that has not gone well (as I peer at the screen trying to put this message together).

So normal service will resume soon when I will be taking part in this…


And posting reviews for this bevy of criminal beauties…


See you soon and thanks for your patience…

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